For the first time since 2013, no player received the 75% of votes needed for induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Curt Schilling came the closest, appearing on 71.1% of ballots and three other players were over the 50% mark.
Despite nobody getting in this year, there was still good news for some eligible players along with plenty of questions for others. We asked ESPN MLB experts Bradford Doolittle, Alden Gonzalez and David Schoenfield to examine the biggest surprises, disappointments — and what Tuesday night’s results say about the current state of Hall of Fame voting.
Who is the biggest winner on an Election Day when no player was voted into the Hall of Fame?
Gonzalez: Andruw Jones went from just 7.5% support in 2019 to 33.9% support in 2021, and he still has six years remaining on the ballot. His prime didn’t extend into his 30s, but it included an .852 OPS, 337 home runs, 130 stolen bases and nine Gold Gloves from ages 20 to 29. He is one of the best defensive center fielders of all time, was a well-above-average hitter in his prime, and his Hall of Fame stock is surging amid a thinned-out ballot.
Schoenfield: Scott Rolen, who made a big leap from last year in his fourth year on the ballot and is now on a strong path to eventual election after getting to 52.9%. The argument against him is largely, “Well, he didn’t feel like a Hall of Famer when he was playing,” but that misses his all-around brilliance (eight Gold Gloves, 316 home runs, nearly 1,300 RBIs). Even if his case is more sabermetric (70.1 career WAR) than gut, he’s one of the top 10 third basemen of all time.
Doolittle: Pretty clearly Rolen. Jumping from just over a third of ballots to well over half in his fourth year of eligibility is huge. He seems like a sure bet at this point, and soon.
Who is the biggest loser on an Election Day when no player was voted into the Hall of Fame?
Gonzalez: Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. They have made steady progress, but not quickly enough. Their penultimate year on the ballot resulted in 61.8% and 61.6% support, respectively, and one has to wonder if they have basically maxed out their support among current members of the BBWAA. The “Today’s Game” committee can review their case, but a seemingly more traditional voting body is probably less likely to induct them than a BBWAA that has become increasingly lenient toward players connected to PEDs.
Schoenfield: Curt Schilling. With a weak ballot other than the PED guys — and he was clearly the best pitching candidate aside from Roger Clemens — this should have been his year, especially after getting 70% last year. But some voters stopped voting for him due to offensive comments he made on Twitter, and it’s not a lock he gets in next year, his final one on the BBWAA ballot.
Doolittle: Got to be Schilling. Once you reach 70%, as he did last year, that’s supposed to be the tipping point. But if the ballots had not been due until after Jan. 6, his total would have been even lower. That doesn’t bode well for his last year on the ballot next winter.
What does nobody getting inducted say about the current state of Hall of Fame voting?
Gonzalez: That the voters are struggling with the morality issue, which admittedly I would too. It’s not just PEDs that they weighed in this election cycle; it’s domestic abuse allegations, DUI arrests and hateful commentary made in retirement. What’s the line where one can no longer separate the art from the artist? How does one draw that line without creating a slippery slope? And how do you justify drawing that line when current members of the Hall of Fame are guilty of these transgressions? There is no right answer.
Schoenfield: Seeing nobody elected this year doesn’t really bother me all that much. The BBWAA elected 19 Hall of Famers over the past six years, so it’s not like they’ve been particularly stingy or anything. It will be interesting to see what happens after Clemens and Bonds come off the ballot, however, as that could actually help some borderline candidates who no longer will be compared to two of the all-time greats.
Doolittle: It’s a mess. The whole process needs to be overhauled, although that’s been true for a long, long time. We need more voters and lots of them. And the Hall — or MLB — needs to step up to keep the writers from being the arbiters of justice and morality.
Our role ought to be to assess the performance on the field among the eligible candidates. If there is someone that shouldn’t be in because of nonperformance reasons because the institution doesn’t want them to be in, then they shouldn’t allow the eligibility.
Which one player’s final vote total is most surprising to you?
Gonzalez: I wasn’t surprised by much with these final totals — thanks, @NotMrTibbs — but it was notable to see Todd Helton continually make such a big jump, from 16.5% in 2019 to 29.2% in 2020 to 44.9% in 2021. Helton put together a .316/.414/.539 slash line across 17 seasons, and though the Coors Field factor can’t be ignored, his .855 career OPS on the road and his 133 career park-adjusted OPS proves he was just a really good hitter. The voters eventually came around on Larry Walker; perhaps they might on Helton too.
Schoenfield: I’ve never understood the lack of support for Jeff Kent, who has struggled to get to 30% after eight ballots. I’m not saying he should be a lock or anything, but he hit 377 home runs, drove in more than 1,500 runs (including eight 100-RBI seasons), won an MVP award and played until he was 40. Historically, voters love longevity, but it hasn’t helped Kent muster enough support. And his defense wasn’t as awful as everyone says either.
Doolittle: I wasn’t too surprised by anything but I guess Billy Wagner’s increased support gives me pause, in a positive sense. The criteria for relievers remains unsettled, and I hate the what-about-him argument, but if some of the other relievers who have made it were deserving, it’s hard to make the case that Wagner isn’t.
Who is one player on the ballot you think has been underrated by voters?
Gonzalez: I don’t know if Bobby Abreu is indeed a Hall of Famer, but he’s closer than you might think — and he is continually underappreciated. This man hit over .300 six times, amassed at least 20 homers and 25 stolen bases nine times apiece, drew at least 100 walks eight times and played in at least 140 games 14 times. In a 12-year stretch from 1998 to 2009, Abreu accumulated the eighth-highest Baseball-Reference WAR among position players. Yet he made only two All-Star teams. And now, in his second year on the ballot, he received only 8.7% support.
Schoenfield: Aside from Kent, I’ll go with Andy Pettitte. Again, hardly a lock, and I get that he was more of a consistent, durable compiler than a dominant ace, but 60.7 career WAR puts him right on the borderline for a good candidate. And then you factor in his postseason performance (19-11, 3.81 ERA, five World Series titles), and you would think a key player from that Yankees dynasty would get more than 16% of the vote.
Doolittle: Rolen is pretty close to a slam dunk in my mind, and it’s great to see others coming around. Everyone else that I’d say is undersupported seem to be victims of the character clause.
Based on these results, do you think any of these players will get in next year?
Schoenfield: I would have said Schilling, but requesting to be removed from the ballot pretty much eliminates any chance of a final-year boost whether the Hall of Fame honors that request or not.
Gonzalez: Schilling would’ve been my answer before he asked to be removed from his final year on the ballot (16 votes can be made up rather easily, especially when political tensions are — hopefully — nowhere near as high). Eventually I think Rolen will get in, but I’m not sure if he can make the jump all the way to 75% next year. I see several Hall of Famers on this year’s ballot, but I can’t be sure that any of the others will eventually get in.
Doolittle: I think Rolen will, if only because of his momentum and the lack of competition on the ballot.
But the best players on the ballot … well, it’s hard to see how enough voters are going to change their minds at this point to make a difference next year.
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